By Fr. Glenn Jones
Ahhh … ‘tis the season.
Yes … we see riots here, protests there, strife everywhere. Impeachments. Invectives. Insults. Anti-social media. Even people getting beaten over chicken sandwiches and chicken nuggets (really!? Over chicken … or, rather, a chicken-like substance?) Fragmentation. Chaos.
But then … a relative calm descends … at least for a few days. Is it the weather? The solstice? Everybody going on holiday? Or, just maybe … the feeling of the season permeates hearts a teensy bit. We can only hope … and pray. After all, Jesus is called “Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) In the midst of our daily grinds and trials, it always helps to remember the meaning of an alias of Jesus: “Emmanuel”, meaning “God with us”.
One of the best (and least heeded) pieces of advice in the world is “Be content”. In other words, make the best of your current situation (the “lemonade out of lemons” counsel) and don’t let expectations (often widely unrealistic) ruin your life! After all … no one is free of trouble and difficulty. We might think of the rich and famous like Jeff Bezos (nope … recently divorced … losing tens of billion $$ in the process) or Steve Jobs (nope … died of cancer) or some other wealthy or powerful person, but no life is without some difficulty or angst. After years of counseling people, I’ve found that if humans don’t have a real trial, they’ll make one! … often making the mountain out of a proverbial molehill.
And yet … there is much to be said in simply remembering that, if we are “warm, fed and watered”, the rest is pretty much gravy. Yeah, sure, we can always gin up multitudinous desires (always something we don’t have), but if not careful we become like children unreasonably frustrated at not being able to catch the butterfly. We thus see much clarity in St. Paul’s wisdom: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8) After all, they still don’t make hearses with luggage racks.
And so, in such simplicity we come to one of life’s greatest ironies as stated by Jesus, whom Sts. Paul and Luke cite, and one so evident during the Christmas season: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
During Christmas, we may have childish glee when receiving gifts, but a much deeper contentment comes in witnessing joy that results from the gifts that we give. When a child opens a gift giggling with glee … when he/she gives the gifter that happiness-filled and grateful smile … there is no greater joy in the heart. It’s much the same with any beloved: Love seeks to give, and the more we love, the more we long to give—not of valueless material things, but that greatest gift of the heart itself.
There was a well-publicized experiment decades ago—that of a baby monkey caged with two “mothers”—one of bare wire with a bottle rigged as a breast for food, and the other with no “breast” but covered with a soft furry cloth. While the “baby” would go to the breast to eat, it otherwise clung exclusively to the furry “mother”—she from which it instinctively perceived as providing affection through the softness of “touch”.
Likewise, our world tends to be obsessed with the bare wire mother—always seeking to “fill the (bottomless) belly” of material wants. In the material can be comfort, but not contentment. After all, what do many wealthy try to buy after accumulating riches—with gifts of money, cars, homes, etc.? No matter how much we accumulate, the ultimate human desire is always: love.
And so, while the world may teach us that unless we’re rich and famous, in those things is not contentment … as the author of Ecclesiastes knew: “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let him sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:12) … something that Paul would echo later “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires…For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:6:10) And, of course, we have one of Jesus’ pinnacle teachings: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) … “poor in spirit” in one sense being those who do not set their heart on riches or materiality.
But we must give love to receive love. Sometimes we hear: “People just don’t like me!”. Well … who’s the common denominator in THAT equation? Give before receiving. And, if sullen that “the world is against me!”, remember that the more we grasp at smoke that is not graspable, the more discontent we are. It is our human tendency to mull over what we cannot have … to worry about what we cannot change … ever anticipating the worst, or that in the darkness no light can come. Many people feel this way.
So … what this often dark and self-centered world needs is: infiltrators! Moles … subverters (or, rather, “super-verters”) to smuggle light into the darkness!
This Christmas and all throughout the new year, BE those infiltrators. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” is to BE apostles (when means “sent”) … to BE lights in the darkness. Eyes in darkness thirst for light, and in like manner the pupils of the human heart dilate in the absence of love and charity … searching (sometimes vainly) for light. So, rather than search for the light, BE the light.
One of the most beautiful ceremonies in Catholicism occurs in the darkened church on Easter Vigil. The lit Paschal (Easter) candle (representing Christ) is brought into the Church, and from that candle’s flame is lit the people’s candles. But not all go to the Paschal candle for the light, but rather the light is passed from person to person … passing God’s love and charity from one to another. Likewise, we are not to be miserly with love received, for love is to be shared, for love is not divided when shared, but multiplied.
Yes, we may live IN a world of selfishness, greed and hatred, but we do not have to be OF selfishness, greed and hatred. So, this Christmas and new year, be infiltrators! … bringing God’s hope and love to the darkness. For…
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
…And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
…They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.